Michael Horne
The Roundup

Lautenschlager’s Mess

By - Mar 1st, 2004 12:00 pm

Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager’s drunk driving arrest last week removes her from behind the wheel of her state-owned vehicle for a year, and puts Governor Jim Doyle in the driver’s seat. The two had squabbled, privately, over terms of the Governor’s jobs bill, with Lautenschlager threatening to use her authority to see that the law comply with the state’s environmental regulations, which she intimated it did not. This sort of independent action by an attorney general is not new in Wisconsin. Doyle was the chief practitioner of it, but then again, he was a Democrat, and the Governor at the time was a Republican. The press has made note that Doyle suggests Lautenschlager forgo some of her pay as a sort of penance for her indiscretion, a matter that remains unresolved at this time.

Doyle also suggested that Lautenschlager consider entering a program to treat problem drinkers. He said that he had a number of friends who had been in a similar situation and that the treatment had helped them. In fact, the public admission of guilt and responsibility (which Lautenschlager made) is usually accompanied these days with a prompt acknowledgement that a problem exists. The subject then usually promptly enters a treatment program and completes it, after which the matter is forgotten. Lautenschlager has not made that admission thus far, which leaves her in the position of either not having a “problem” or being “in denial” of it. It does leave Doyle high and dry, however, and much less likely to face interference in his plans from that peskiest of all politicians – an ambitious Attorney General.

Walker at the War Memorial

County Executive Scott Walker welcomed about 100 well-clad guests to a fundraiser February 26th at the War Memorial Center. The strictly upper-crust affair was a Republican-type fundraiser, which meant that hard liquor was consumed (in moderation) and beer, for the most part, was ignored. For those fans of the frothy stuff, Walker offered Miller products and Heineken. Food was by Ellen’s Prestige Catering, and included strolling waiters, another classy touch. Menu items included spinach somethings, meat and melted cheese on sandwich rounds, wrapped up little salmon tidbits, an entirely unsuccessful raspberry-brie tart, platters of some kind of 21st century sandwich product along with perfectly delicious fruit.

The event was unmarred by public oratory, but was enhanced by an A-list of locals practicing up for the next time Bush is in town.

Among the exalted: George Dalton, Dennis Kuester (on crutches), Michael Cudahy, mourning the recent death of Daniel Urban Kiley, creator of the $4 million Cudahy garden outside the adjacent Milwaukee Art Museum, Fred Luber, Tim Hoeksma, Carol Skornicka, John Finerty, Jim Weichmann, Joe Rice, Mary Buestrin, Corey Hoze and developer Mark Irgens. Hoze has secured speaker Dennis Hastert to appear at a $2000 fundraiser on his hopeless behalf in his upcoming congressional campaign. That’s rich.

Marvin Pratt popped in and worked the crowd for about 20 minutes before his cop told him it was time to leave. What’s with the clean-shaven look, Marvin? “The beard was making me look old, and it had to go,” he said, adding, “but I am old.”

Dan Steininger, you’ll remember, is the grandson of legendary Mayor Dan Hoan. (If you don’t remember, he’ll remind you anyway.) Steininger also operates the Catholic Knights Insurance company, and he goes to extraordinary lengths to keep his customers. Recently, he said, an annuitant was considering switching her $200,000 policy to another firm. Steininger called her on the phone to dissuade her (successfully.) The new policy would have cost her $25,000 in up front fees, a staggering sum for an octogenarian, and virtually all immediate income for the agent. “There should be a special place in hell for insurance agents who scam the elderly,” he said.

Walker has a new CD out – but you don’t have to adjust your earphones (only your eyesight.) The CD features a staggering abundance of photographs of Scott Walker at his primary victory party on February 17th. They were taken by omnipresent photographer Carson A. Lunde, a board member of Citizens for Responsible Government, and practically a Walker groupie. You can order your own copy at 1-414-764-4239.

Around the Town

Sen Jeff Plale and Rep. Tony Staskunas held a joint fundraiser February 23rd at Shakers. Bob Weiss made an appropriate pre-lenten feast of Jambalaya and of Gumbo. The event drew such luminaries as Jeff Bentoff, the former reporter-bureaucrat who now handles governmental affairs work for SBC. His wife, Julie Penman, was not there, but is employed after the briefest of unemployments. … Amy Carlson, at the party, says she is working on a website for the Bay View neighborhood. Plale said he got interested in politics back when former Sen. Grobschmidt was his school teacher. He helped with the campaigns, and now holds Grobschmidt’s seat. Plale’s dad was an engineer with Everbrite Corporation, making neon beer signs for the local firm. He rigged up a Pabst sign for his church once, he said. … Sonja Thomsen showed a selection of her photographs at Gallery H20 on February 27th. Among those in attendance: Atty. Mark Thomsen, (her dad) and his close friend Rep. Pedro Colon. A further legislative presence was maintained by Rep. Jon Richards. Judge Tom Donegan was also an attendee.… I ran into retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland at the Pabst Theater February 24th. His eminence says he is now living in an apartment at the Cousins Center that was formerly that of Mother Superior. … Former Foes Endorse Barrett – According to a press release, “former foes” Cumberbatch, Todd, Colon and Matson have all endorsed Tom Barrett for Mayor. The slow-news-day release includes the names of two “foes” – Matson and Colon – who were such former foes that they did not even appear on the ballot.

Let’s Get Drunk at Watts

When George Watts ran for mayor four years ago, the downtown shopkeeper told us that society (or at least the downtown part of it) would collapse if the Park East Freeway spur were demolished. Since then, the freeway has since been leveled, and downtown is doing well. The collapse of society, however, may be found in this recent news: George Watts & Sons Tea Shop, the quintessential venue for “Ladies who Lunch” has applied for a liquor license! Who could have imagined the day would come?

Feingold’s 51st

Senator Russell Feingold held two birthday parties February 29th. The first was in Madison, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., while the second, held in Milwaukee, ran from 3 to 5 p.m., at Aqua Upscale Lounge in the Park East Hotel. Host Jay Walia provided free Cabernet, Chardonnay, Champagne and Coffee for the guests of Wisconsin’s feisty junior senator. Guests included Art Heiser, soon-to-be-retired Alderman Don Richards (sporting a “Pratt for Mayor” campaign button), Ralph and Sally von Briesen, Gary Kohlenberg and Bryan Kennedy (the two democrats who hope to unseat Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.), Judge Ted Wedemeyer, Judge Jean DiMotto, Judge Glenn Yamahiro and Patti Keating Kahn. Where was Judge Chuck Kahn? “He’s waiting out in the car,” his wife said. Ethical reasons, apparently forbid Chuck from attending political fundraisers, although they did not dissuade his colleagues. Others in attendance included David Riemer, Lin Clausing, Rick Domnitz, and the little-seen Mary Feingold, accompanying her husband. The Leo Sidran band performed, a nice touch.

Feingold made some remarks from atop a wobbly table. The campaign finance-reform guru apologized for all the mailed solicitations his supporters have been receiving lately, explaining it’s just in the nature of his business, and that he only runs every six years, anyway. “We know we’re going to get hit hard in this election. We know the White House wants this state, and wants to defeat me as well,” he said.

Feingold said that he has raised money from 27,000 contributors, most of them from Wisconsin, and most who gave less than $60. “My campaign finance chairman cringes when I give that $60 figure,” he said. “That’s just the average. You are welcome to give more.”

“The most important thing on the ballot is not my race. It is to defeat George Bush,” he told the crowd to thundering applause. “Of course, I am trying to keep my own job. This is an extreme administration, and none of my three opponents distance themselves from Bush. If you get any of my opponents you’ll get nothing more than a yes man for George Bush.” The crowd did not want that.

Alderman Marlene Odom-Johnson was there, chatting up her primary opponent Calvin Lee. Judicial candidate Joan Kessler was also in attendance, although her opponent Charles Schudson was nowhere to be seen.

It was also clear that Russ Darrow does not have 100 percent of the car dealer vote. Jim Tolkan was in the audience. “Hey, aren’t you car dealers supposed to vote for Darrow?” I asked. “Not this one,” he replied. “Some of us are democrats.”

I asked Feingold about the anti-gay marriage amendment proposed by Bush. “I plan to help kill that amendment on Tuesday,” he said.

(My own take on Gay Marriage: I’m opposed, and I will not change my mind until somebody proposes to me. Anyway, why be against gay marriage? With marriage comes divorce. Court TV could run a whole separate channel devoted to gay divorces, rather than simply relying on Liza Minelli’s.)

Aqua ran into some licensing problems in the Common Council last week. Attorney Michael Whitcomb managed to defeat a plan that would have suspended the club’s license for 15 days. Objections to the license came from the Shoreline Company, managers of a nearby rival hotel, the Plaza. Rev. Deborah Block, senior pastor of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, also objected. The license was granted with a warning letter and a requirement that the operator provide proof that “pro-active measures are being taken to address neighbors’ concerns.” … In other hotel news, the Hunzinger Company is closer to its goal of building a hotel at 401 W. Wisconsin Avenue. It will purchase the 86,400 square foot lot there from the city for $1. The retail value of the lot is reckoned at $4 million.

Attention Filmakers

The 6th annual Milwaukee Short Film/Video Festival is tentatively scheduled for June 6th. Entries will be accepted until April 30th. The competition is for emerging Milwaukee filmmakers, student filmmakers and independent filmmakers. Narrative, documentary, experimental and animated shorts (under 20 minutes) are solicited. Entry fee is $18. The winner gets $1,000. For details email oldskoolmilwaukee@yahoo.com.

What’s the Mata?

MATA, The Milwaukee Access Telecommunications Authority “is now headed toward financial collapse,” according to a January 28th letter from Comptroller W. Martin “Wally” Morics. The comptroller reviewed the 2004 business plan submitted by MATA, one that requests a temporary increase in city funding for the public access channel. “Based on currently available information, we recommend that this request be denied,” Morics writes.

The Common Council’s Utilities and Licenses Committee will hold a public hearing on Thursday, March 4th at 9 a.m. to review MATA’s request for additional funds.

A letter from City Clerk Ronald D. Leonhardt to Vel Wiley, Executive Director of MATA, requests that Wiley provide the committee with information on the history of MATA, its relationship to Time Warner and the City of Milwaukee, a summary of MATA’s current financial situation and “the factors that caused it,” along with audit information, MATA’s goals for “future revenue enhancement” and its prospects for refinancing its loan from US Bank.

MATA has provided public access service to the city since the first cable franchise service was awarded in 1984. In 2000, when the new franchise agreement with Time Warner became effective, the firm made a one-time grant to the city of $5.2 million to cover all of its “Public, Educational and Government Access (PED) obligations for the 17 year term of the franchise, ending in 2016.”

MATA received a one-time grant of $794,000 and quarterly payments of $125,000.

According to the Morics letter, “Early in 2000, significant MATA financial and operational problems began to surface. For the first time MATA was required to obtain and pay for office and studio space. Under the previous franchise, MATA shared space with Time Warner at no cost. This ended in 2000 when Time Warner moved to new headquarters and MATA had to find its own facilities.”

MATA then borrowed $1.5 million from U.S. Bank, received an $800,000 grant from the city and used its cash reserves to purchase and renovate an office and studio facility at 24th and Clybourn.

MATA promised the city that it would not incur budget deficits, but has continued to do so, and has not raised sufficient supplemental funds from other sources, as promised.

MATA has reduced its staff from 22 to 11 employes, but according to its 2004 business plan, “2003 is expected to reflect a deficit that cannot be satisfied without assistance.”

MATA requested that the city use some of the grant funds to pay the $1.3 million in outstanding delinquent U.S. Bank loans, giving the city secured interest in the MATA real estate. That property, however, is a special use property, and is worth perhaps $700,000 vacant.

The proposal to be heard Thursday calls for the city to sell $1.3 million of the one-time grant assets that have been used to generate MATA’s $125,000 quarterly payments to pay off the mortgage on the property. MATA would continue to receive its quarterly payments, but the amounts would be reduced starting in January 2006 to reflect the lower returns based on the sale of the $1.3 million in assets. The City would then hold the mortgage to the property.

This solution is probably more desirable to MATA than Morics’ plan, which suggests that MATA could be disbanded, and the grant assets be used to support the City Government channel, now operating on tax revenues.

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